The First Single (Part 1) – The A-Side: ‘I Believe My Time Ain’t Long’

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac made their public debut on August 13, 1967 at the 7th Annual Jazz, Pop, Ballads & Blues Festival at the Royal Windsor Racecourse in Windsor, Berkshire.

Although attendance for the Sunday shows are estimated at about 15,000, the band would truly introduce themselves to the public with their first single in November.

They had one shot (possibly two, though B-sides were rarely played) to make an impression.

They already had at least three numbers, ‘Fleetwood Mac’, ‘First Train Home’ and ‘Rambling Pony’, recorded sometime in August with John McVie on bass, in the can, but those songs would remain unreleased until 1971.

Based on the bootlegs of their debut and their second show at the Marquee Club two days later they also had at least another sixteen songs to choose from.

Of the nine songs performed by Green at the two shows, six were originals.

All eight of Spencer’s numbers were covers, with six coming from Elmore James’ catalog.

The song used to open both of those shows, ‘Talk To Me Baby’ a.k.a. ‘I Can’t Hold Out’, a raucous, high energy number, had a hook that seemed designed to catch a listener’s attention.  Problem was, there was little for Green to do on this number.  (For reasons unknown, they wouldn’t cut this song in the studio until the “Blues Jam In Chicago” session)

The Green original ‘Looking For Somebody’ may have been too “minor key” for a first single, but his cover of ‘No Place to Go’ might have packed a potential commercial punch.  Problem was, Green’s numbers were performed in a trio format, as Spencer chose to sit them out.

The number that was eventually chosen, ‘I Believe My Time Ain’t Long’, was a brilliant compromise; a cover of a Robert Johnson song by way of Elmore James, it demonstrated their blues bona fides and provided a showcase for both Spencer and Green.

When performed at the Marquee Club show a few weeks earlier*, they didn’t so much play the song as discharge it, unleashing a fusillade of shouted vocal, pummeling rhythm guitar and bass backed by Fleetwood’s pounding drums and cymbal crashes.  The poor sound on the available recording smears all the elements into a tsunami of sound atop which rides Spencer’s pealing slide guitar.

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac

Peter Green: vocal, guitar & harmonica / Jeremy Spencer: guitar & vocal

Bob Brunning: bass / Mick Fleetwood: drums

Recorded August 15, 1967 – The Marquee Club, London

Available on: Live at the Marquee** (Receiver 1992)

 Dust My Broom (Elmore James) (4:05)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji9IqsVbyh4

Most would assume that as this is a cover of an Elmore James song, it must have been Spencer’s idea to record it, yet, knowing, and playing with John Mayall, Green would have been more than familiar with Sonny Boy Williamson II’s body of work (see ‘Mighty Long Time’ from the “Live at the Marquee”) so it may have been Green who brought this one in as a possible candidate.

In concert, Green was content to allow Spencer and the band to bash away at the number as so many of their contemporaries were at the time.  After all, Green did not consider this “Blues”, but rather, Rock ‘n Roll.

As an introduction to “his” band however, he wanted it known that they were a “Blues band”, and the sound that Vernon helped them create aligned them more closely with Jo-Ann Kelly and T.S. McPhee than Savoy Brown and Chicken Shack.

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac

Jeremy Spencer: guitar, vocal / Peter Green: harmonica /

Bob Brunning: bass / Mick Fleetwood: drums

Recorded September 9, 1967, CBS Studio, New Bond Street

Released November 3, 1967 A-side, Blue Horizon single (U.K.)

Available on: The Pious Bird of Good Omen and

The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions 1967 – 1969

I Believe My Time Ain’t Long (R. Johnson/arr. E. James) (3:01)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvWllMoKOgk

The band takes the number at a slighter faster pace than used on James’ recording, and the sound is fuller, with all available space being utilized.

Especially on the single mix, the rhythm section is brought to the fore, with Brunning’s thick bass notes laying the foundation as Fleetwood’s drums provide the forward momentum.

Spencer pulls off the difficult trick of sounding as if he were singing at the top of his range without a sign of strain.

Vernon remixed the number for release on “The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions 1967 – 1969” box set bringing up Green’s harp, and giving the drums a drier, crisper sound.  Spencer’s slide is also cleaned and sharpened.

On the original mix, Green’s harmonica must fight for space with the drums.  The new mix also clears a space for the overdub of Spencer’s guitar playing without the slide, best heard on the outro.

In what may have been a bone thrown to the “Blues purists” of the time, Spencer sings the second verse as written by Robert Johnson, not the one sung by James, a wink to those in the know.  On the earlier version from The Marquee, and later, when he recorded the number for the “Mr. Wonderful” LP, he uses James’ lyrics, changing only the last line (to me, the words are garbled, and if anyone can offer a “translation” it would be appreciated)

 

The only contemporaneous recording I could find of the song, is by Canned Heat, on their first LP, released in England in 1967.

Playing fast and loose with both the arrangement and lyrics, they manage to come closer to the “style” of Elmore James (on his later recordings) in his magpie habit of picking up bits and pieces from here and there and using them to create something new.  Adding tremendously to the success of this number is the addition of Ray Johnson on piano.

Canned Heat

Al Wilson: guitar & vocal / Henry Vestine: guitar /

Larry Taylor: bass / Frank Cook: drums /

Ray Johnson: piano

Available on: Canned Heat (Liberty 1967)

Dust My Broom (3:28)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHu24OK0-z4

Despite the creativity of the arrangement, and the energy with which they play, it is the vocal that ultimately lets the song down, lacking the sense of scale (in both passion and humor) to match the music the way that Spencer did.

There is also a Canned Heat connection with the flip side to Fleetwood Mac’s debut single, ‘Rambling Pony’ and we’ll take a look at that in the next installment.

 

* Note: Elmore James’ original was recorded and released under the title ‘Dust My Broom’ in 1951 on the Trumpet label.  Trumpet leased the song to Ace Records in 1955 and they reissued the number under the title, ‘I Believe My Time Ain’t Long’.

Sue Records subsequently licensed the song from Ace and released it under their title in England in 1965 on the compilation LP “We Sing The Blues”

** All of the releases of this show on the Castle Communications labels, “Live at the Marquee” on Receiver and Trojan and the U.S. release on Purple Pyramid, “A Night at the Marquee” incorrectly list the song as ‘Dust My Blues’.

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